Stewart Lee, Leicester Square Theatre, London

Have you heard the one about the oh-so-clever comedian who sends up, er, comedy?

If someone invited you to a two- hour stand-up routine by an ultra post-modern comedian, so sophisticated that he satirises himself, his audience and all the big names on the circuit, you might pass and ask to see a panto instead.

But Stewart Lee's humour is the opposite of pretentious. Sure, his new show, Carpet Remnant World (I'll come to the title later), is clever, and riddled with oblique references – you're expected to know about Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls, and see the absurdity in the Vatican changing its doctrine on Purgatory. But he isn't showing off – he just assumes you're on his intellectual level. And if you're not, he doesn't want you there anyway. As he keeps saying to any Jimmy Carr fans in the audience: "It's not for you," adding, for his loyal fans, "It'll soon be back to just us."

At the same time he is mock-baffled that the BBC hasn't commissioned him for a third series – it hasn't had time to make a decision. "They're too busy commissioning 200 episodes of Russell Howard and writing Rob Brydon a blank cheque."

In his deadpan, "passive aggressive", middle-aged and bitter way, Lee brilliantly deconstructs and savages other comedians' techniques, so when a joke's not going very well, he says, you slip in a reference to rectal bleeding. Or just add a bit, and then a bit more, and eventually you get a laugh. "In the trade we call it Boyle's law."

If his Michael McIntyre prancing is funny, then his riff on what he calls "observational comedy" is funnier still, as in those comedians who endlessly say, "have you noticed the way ...?". As he puts it: "You can't just go on stage and ask a load of questions without a punchline. Can you?" Of course, the twist is that he is indulging in "observational comedy" about comedy itself.

This sort of meta-comedy, if it can be called that, is the seam running through the show. Take his self-deprecation. He says he's got no material because his life consists of watching Scooby-Doo with his son, and driving round the North Circular. In the hands of another comedian, being told they've got no jokes would be annoying. It's been done before. But Lee pushes it further. Towards the end of the first half, he starts looking at the prompts scrawled on his hand. He does it so subtly, just as you would if you actually had forgotten your script, that for a moment I thought, yeah, actually, you are rubbish. But as the first half fizzles and you realise the fizzling is the joke, the laugh is on you for falling for it.

It's not all so convoluted – there are one-liners too. Such as: "My wife wants me to have a vasectomy." Sigh. "Hardly any point." And there are meta-one-liners, such as: "That was a joke ... They do stick out." Then there are moments of sheer silliness, like the Scooby-Doo riff. Having watched the same cartoon 180 times, it's his only frame of reference. So when he goes into observational comedy mode, the question he keeps asking is: "You know those jungle canyon rope bridges, right, you know, the ones that are always broken ...?"

And what of the show's title? It refers to the carpet remnant store he finds himself going into, on one of his lonely motorway drives. But its true significance comes clear only at the end. Suddenly, a show that you thought was just a meandering two hours of deadpan half-baked material-free nonsense – as he keeps telling you it is – comes together, tight as a ball of string. At the beginning, he tells you what will happen one minute from the end, to "create an illusion of structure". Except it's not an illusion at all – it's just brilliantly post-modern.

To 10 Feb (08448 733 433)

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot